Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has made minimal changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with the Western Force in Hamilton.
Three players look set to make their debuts, while Chiefs stalwart Stephen Donald is set to don the Chiefs jersey for the first time since 2011.
In the forwards, tighthead prop Siate Tokolahi is promoted from the bench to start alongside Mitchell Graham and Hika Elliot in the front row.
With Johan Bardoul sidelined with a broken thumb, Taleni Seu gets an opportunity to impress at lock. Seu teams up in the second row with Michael Allardice, who makes his fifth consecutive start for the Chiefs. Loose forwards Tom Sanders, Sam Cane and Michael Leitch combine for the second week in a row.
There are just two changes in the backs, with Brad Weber to start at scrum-half and Seta Tamanivalu to wear jersey 13, replacing Anton Lienert-Brown who is unavailable for selection due to a minor knee injury.
Fly-half Aaron Cruden, wing James Lowe, inside centre Charlie Ngatai and full-back Damian McKenzie offer continuity and confidence, starting for the fifth consecutive week in a row.
Right wing Sam McNicol has earned his second start following a strong debut performance for the Chiefs against the Jaguares, contributing to the 30-26 scoreline with a brilliant try.
There are wholesale changes in the reserves with only hooker Rhys Marshall backing up from last Saturday’s game against the Jaguares.
28-year old Bay of Plenty prop Siegfried Fisi’ihoi comes onto the bench to replace Pauliasi Manu who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury at training on Wednesday.
Debutant Fisi’ihoi joins Marshall and Atu Moli as front row cover. James Tucker provides second row cover with Counties Manukau flanker and debutant Sam Henwood rounding out the forward reserves.
Nippy Manawatu scrum-half Kayne Hammington has had an exciting week, with the 25-year-old getting called into the Chiefs squad for the season and making the playing-23.
Veteran utility back Stephen Donald is in line to play his 86th game for the Chiefs, five seasons after he last appeared for the side. 27-year-old Counties Manukau back Toni Pulu has battled his way back from an ankle injury and will make his debut for the Chiefs should he take the field.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said: “The past couple of days has been a lot about recovery and clarity. We have a big training day today in preparation for a side we’ve always battled against and who’ll be looking to bounce back from last week’s final 20 minutes.
“While unbeaten on the road, we’re keen to front at home for our family, friends and supporters, and we’ve brought in fresh legs to help with this.”
Western Force head coach Michael Foley has made two changes to his matchday 23 to face the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
In the only changes to the team, hooker Heath Tessmann comes into the starting XV along with Brynard Stander who gets the nod at blindside flanker.
Foley says the side had learnt some valuable lessons from last week’s loss to the Hurricanes.
“We were disappointed in our performance on Friday night,” he explained.
“For the first 60 minutes of the game, we created enough opportunities to take points.
“However, at key times we gave possession away and released pressure too easily. A lot of the lead up work in attack was what we’ve been practicing and came on the back of good set piece and defence.
“Ultimately, we will stay true to the way we want to play and won’t lose sight of what we are trying to achieve, but to take the next step and win those games, will mean being more relentless to finish our work when we have momentum at different times throughout the game.”
Tessmann comes into the starting front-row and will join the familiar pairing of Pek Cowan and Tetera Faulkner. The formidable pairing of Adam Coleman and Ross Haylett-Petty will start in the second row for the third straight week.
In the back row, Stander comes into the starting line-up at blindside with Matt Hodgson at openside and the versatile Angus Cottrell will look to make an impact moving to number eight.
In an unchanged back-line Alby Mathewson and Peter Grant will look to get the Force on the front foot and continue to build their chemistry while Solomoni (Junior) Rasolea and Ben Tapuai again partner in the midfield.
Semisi Masirewa and Marcel Brache will man the wings while Dane Haylett-Petty will look to continue his fine form at fullback.
Coming off the bench, Ben McCalman will look to make his impact felt while Ryan Louwrens and Albert Nikoro will be keen to make the most of their opportunity after showing some good signs in theirs stints off the bench last week.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden(cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc) 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Toni Pulu
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Solomoni (Junior Rasolea), 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pekahou Cowan
Replacements: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Nathan Charles, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sitiveni (Stevie) Mafi, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Albert Nikoro
Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams, Brett Johnson
TMO: Glenn Newman